Anti-Semitism's Ability to Mutate Makes It More Than a Thing of the Past

Cape Times (South Africa), December 21, 2006 | Go to article overview

Anti-Semitism's Ability to Mutate Makes It More Than a Thing of the Past


BYLINE: Milton Shain

The recent "Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision" conference in Tehran, which brought together notorious far right "revisionists" (denialists) and Islamists, illustrates a disturbing trend which observers have noted for some time: a nexus between the white supremacist and anti-Semitic far right, and radical Muslim extremists.

Is this a metamorphosis of an old hatred long known for its protean nature? Pagan hostility mutated into Christian anti-Judaism, which in turn mutated into "racial" antiSemitism. Is anti-Zionism a new mutation - a hygienic form of antisemitism?

This may well be the case, at least in some cases. Witness the sight of former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, the French "revisionist", George Thiel, and the Australian Holocaust denialist, Colin Tobin, rubbing shoulders with Islamist clerics and Iranian President |Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

Anti-Semitism does mutate, notes Walter Laqueur in his new book, The Changing Face of Antisemitism (OUP). He reminds us the term "anti-Semitism" (antisemit-ismus) was only coined in the 1870s (by Wilhelm Marr, a one-time German radical) to accord with a more scientific age. It replaced "Jew hatred" (Judenhaas or Judenhetzen).

The roots of that hostility reach back to the pagan world, although scholars disagree on the substance of that antipathy and the extent to which it deserves the title "antiSemitism". It did, however, prepare the way for sustained Christian |hostility.

From the 15th century, there are indications that medieval "anti-Judaism" was giving way to modern "racial" anti-Semitism. By the 18th century, anthropological categories were characterising Jews as having innate characteristics. These ideas flowered throughout the 19th century, merging with Darwin's notion of natural selection and Herbert Spencer's "survival of the fittest".

Whereas in the medieval world, conversion to Christianity had often been possible, the new race-based anti-Semitism that defined Jews as immutably alien precluded this option.

It ultimately came to justify "war on the Jews", supported by inflammatory texts such as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Initially, the Protocols were relatively obscure. But after the Russian Revolution, their noxious ideas percolated into the West. Notwithstanding their exposure as a crude forgery, they spread throughout the world and were translated into many languages. In the words of Norman Cohn, the Protocols served as a "warrant for genocide" - the "final solution" or the murder of nearly six million Jews.

Although anti-Semitism declined substantially in Western Europe after World War 2, anti-Jewish charges were common in the Soviet Union. A powerful anti-Zionist message was directed from Moscow after the Six Day War, culminating in the Soviet Union's sponsorship in 1975 (together with some Arab states) of a United Nations resolution condemning Zionism "as a form of racism and racial discrimination". The resolution (revoked in 1991) was part of a continuing attempt to delegitimise the Jewish state.

While Laqueur argues that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not the same, he does show that much anti-Zionist rhetoric - especially in the Arab/Muslim world - reveals classic anti-Jewish motifs that go beyond the bounds of normal political conflict. …

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